The Online Emperor has no Clothes

If UCOP and the Regents end up trying to use the expansion of online courses–rather than say the increase in the number of faculty–as a way to overcome so-called “bottleneck” courses, and if they use online courses as the primary means to allow community college students to meet their lower-division requirements then, as a practical matter, students will be compelled to take online courses even if they are not officially required…

It has been the austerity policies of the last twelve years–not the invention of new technologies or the alleged conservatism of the faculty–that has driven the dialogue and the seminar to the margins of the university. If we are serious about the quality of education then returning the dialogue and the seminar to the center is the task facing education going forward–whether digital or not,

Whose Online? What Online?” Michael Meranze

Roughly speaking, there are two sides to the sorts of Utopian thinking that have flourished around new communication technologies and online education. On the one hand, you have the run of the mill electronic naif, naively enthusiastic about the possibilities and seemingly oblivious to the practicalities of everyday life, economic and otherwise. We can call this the Napster side. Thomas Friedman and his ilk go here; Meranze calls him a ‘technopulicist‘.

The technopublicist enthusiasm may or may not be self-serving, since many of them are involved in companies of various kinds (Udacity, Coursera). The other side of this technological Utopian thinking is the side– we might call it the administrative side– that uses this na├»ve discourse and enthusiasm to both drive a specific anti-labor agenda and to obscure problems it has no desire to solve because the solutions don’t serve its interests.

Meranze suggests that this administrative strategy, at least in California, is faltering as students and faculty begin to articulate a response to the cynical policies that promote the growth of online education in order to protect the status quo and its top-heavy administrative costs and over-reliance on contingent labor. The real Utopian possibility in online education is not just pedagogical, it’s an end to the exploitation of teachers in the universities.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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